Thursday, 30 September 2010

Review: Or You Could Kiss Me, National Theatre

“This…is…going to happen”

Maybe it is due to some as yet unexplored childhood trauma, but I really don’t like puppets, whether human or animal, I just don’t like ‘em. I can just about cope with Avenue Q type cuddliness, but more realistic ones by and large freak me out which is why I have never seen War Horse. So when a new play by the same company Handspring, was announced at the Cottesloe in the National Theatre, I decided to seize the bull by the horns or the puppet by its strings and go to see Or You Could Kiss Me. This was an early preview and I’m not sure what I was expecting, it wasn’t this.

On a bare traverse stage and to the sound of a live accordion, the action starts with a narrator who takes us through the story of Mr A and Mr B, two men who have lived together for over 60 years but with Mr B near death, are struggling to get arrangements in place and to fully articulate the depth of their love for each other. Our narrator takes us, and them, back to the beginning of their relationship in a time when homosexuality was much less accepted and we see these two young men with their hunger for love and happiness but also the necessity of their intense privacy, something that haunts them for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Review: Faust, Young Vic

“He will have to combine the rough with the smooth;
Only then will he find his Faustian groove”

Vesturport are an Icelandic theatre company whose innovative approach to theatre has seen them involve actors variously underwater, climbing up walls and clambering across ceilings and performing without makeup. Their new play, a free interpretation of Goethe’s Faust, is a co-production with Reykjavík City Theatre and has been chosen as one of the first plays in the Young Vic’s 40th anniversary season.

Starting off in an old people’s home at Christmastime and an attempted suicide by Jóhann, a gruff actor who after quite some persuasion begins to read the story of the one major role he has never played, Faust. It then riffs off on the Faust story as we know it, taking us on something of an epic journey, somewhat recognisable but at the same time completely different. This ends up as less an exercise in coherent, emotive storytelling than an exhilarating, acrobatics-filled rollercoaster of a production, set to music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (one of the Bad Seeds) that uses the space of the Young Vic like nothing I’ve seen before.

Cast of Faust continued

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Review: The Aliens, Bush Theatre

“We’re not even close to being one of them”

Annie Baker’s play The Aliens marks the first time that Peter Gill has directed at the Bush Theatre in West London. Set at the yard of back of a diner in Vermont, former trailer park kid Jasper is trying to write a novel and college dropout KJ is laconically trying to find the perfect recipe for magic mushroom tea. A high school student who starts work at the coffee shop discovers the two nearly-30-somehings and a slow gentle friendship develops based on little chats, eating snacks and watching the 4th July fireworks.

Lucy Osbourne’s stage design is excellent, with the audience right there in the yard with the characters, it is well balanced being extremely intimate without feeling too intrusive and continues a strong vein of interesting design work at the Bush. But sadly that was about as good as it got for me.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Review: A Very Musical Evening, Wilton’s Music Hall

A Very Musical Evening, at Wilton’s Music Hall was an event in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, compered by Aled Jones and a really rather lovely way to spend a Sunday evening (and it had to be, given that Dame Maggie Smith was on offer on tv!) A star studded cast worked their way through an entertaining programme stuffed full of Stiles & Drewe’s witty and powerful songs but also featuring a wide range of other musical theatre and pop offerings in the world’s oldest working music hall and one of London’s most atmospheric venues.

We learned a lot: Hannah Waddingham was announced as the Wicked Witch of the West in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming Wizard of Oz; the way to get ahead in musical theatre is to live in the same building as a composer, the UK is a world leader in looking after teenagers with cancer, Joanthan Groff visited Brighton for the first time last week and loved it (quelle surprise!) and Cameron Mackintosh is the most excited he has been since Les Mis about upcoming Stiles & Drewe musical Betty Blue Eyes, based on Alan Bennett’s A Private Function.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

“Do you always pray during those seconds before curtain-up?”

The Drowsy Chaperone is receiving its first off-west-end fringe revival after a spectacular failure with its West End run 3 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why it was so unsuccessful featuring Elaine Paige as it did but the misguided marketing campaign had a lot to do with it I’m sure. It is however also quite a niche piece, it should appeal to any fan of musical theatre but beyond that, I’m not sure how much attraction it has. But relocated and retooled to the Upstairs at the Gatehouse pub theatre in Highgate, this production captures all the charm and effervescence of this delightful show and hopefully it will restore some of its reputation here in London. 

The show starts in darkness with our narrator explaining that he much prefers to listen to his favourite musicals than actually go to the theatre and he proceeds to put on his favourite record, The Drowsy Chaperone from 1928. This show-within-a-show is about two lovers whose wedding is put in jeopardy on their wedding day – by disaster, by themselves, by the drowsy chaperone who is supposed to be making sure the bride doesn’t see the groom on that fateful day and a whole host of stereotypical Broadway caricatures all with their own agendas. But this show is almost secondary to the commentary of Man in Chair who remains onstage throughout. It is wittily structured with him providing constant footnotes about the habits of old Broadway stars and observations such as the particularly dodgy lyrics that pop up now and again, but also little touches like a power cut, the wrong show restarting after the interval and a skipping record are nicely observed in Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s book, keeping us neatly in the postmodern but not obnoxiously so. 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Review: Hay Fever, Rose Theatre Kingston

“People stare in astonishment when we say the most ordinary things”

In mounting a new production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, the Rose Theatre, Kingston has managed another casting coup after attracting Judi Dench out west earlier this year, although their plans haven’t quite gone according to schedule. Celia Imrie agreed to take on the lead role of Judith Bliss, but subsequent filming commitments meant she can only fulfil half the run, so Nichola McAuliffe will be stepping in for the final two weeks. Still, a very interesting cast under Stephen Unwin’s direction, makes this an intriguing proposition.

Set in the Blisses’ family home in the 1920s, Judith, a recently retired stage actress, David, a self-absorbed novelist, and their two equally unconventional children make for a eccentric family grouping given to melodramatic theatrical excesses. On the weekend we see them, they have each invited someone, unbeknownst to the others, a stuffy diplomat, a shy girl, an athletic boxer and a fashionable sophisticate and the scene is set for comedic chaos as endless scenes and permutations are played out by the Blisses and their unsuspecting house guests.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre

“There's a little intricate hussy for you!"

One of my theatrical highlights of the year so far was Celia Imrie in a sparkling production of The Rivals which variously featured audience interaction, recorders, Beyoncé songs and Sam Swainsbury sat on my lap for a while. So, when the Theatre Royal Bath production to be directed by Sir Peter Hall was announced, I was intrigued to see how it would match up. And whilst there is little of the relaxed informality of that Southwark Playhouse version, Hall sticks to what he knows best, gimmick-free, perfectly-cast productions which focus on the writing.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners, set in 18th century Bath amongst the fashionable élite who are there to take the waters and maybe a little gossip and romance on the side. Lydia Languish longs for a romantic elopement such as those of which she has read rather than a conventional marriage and so in order to win her hand, Captain Absolute disguises himself as an impoverished soldier and woos her, despite the disapproval of her guardian, Mrs Malaprop who has her own romantic designs. But Absolute has two rivals for Miss Languish, whose cousin has her own lovelife problems which we observe and the servants are playing their own games resulting in much comedy, chaos and confusion.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Review: Boiling Frogs, Southwark Playhouse

“Do you have a problem with authority?
‘I have a problem with authoritarians...’”

The title of Boiling Frogs refers to an alleged phenomenon which should be familiar to fans of Christopher Brookmyre’s books and is an apt metaphor for this, The Factory’s first ever full-length original play. Usually known for reinterpreting classic plays and hugely interactive scenarios (the audience bringing along random props to be used and getting to pick who will play each part), Steven Bloomer has written a play set in a police cell in a world not too dissimilar from our own but where global warming has hit hard, the fallout from a riot called the Battle of Birmingham is on everyone’s lips and capital punishment is being introduced for terrorists.

The first people we see in the cell are Mark, a keenly intelligent professional protester arrested for impersonating a police officer and the policeman who is trying to interview him and avoid getting himself tied up in Mark’s word games and constant assertions of his civil rights. As the play progresses, George is then thrown into the cell, another protester who was at the same picnic in Parliament Square and then Tom, a policeman being held for overstepping the line. A sergeant also appears periodically to ratchet up the tension as the walls both metaphorically and literally begin to close in and the three prisoners are forced to face up to what they have done and what they believe is right.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review: The Makropulos Case, English National Opera at The Coliseum

“How grim to have to live so long”

The Makropulos Case is an opera in three acts by Leoš Janáček with a libretto also by Janáček after the Czech play Věc Makropulos by Karel Čapek (who, trivia fans, invented the word ‘robot’!) This is the first revival of Christopher Alden’s ENO 2006 production which has been translated into English and is dedicated to the memory of Sir Charles Mackerras who sadly passed away this year, an especially fitting tribute as it was he, perhaps more than anyone, who did so much to really champion the work of Janáček.

The curtain rises tantalisingly slowly during the overture to reveal the dour Vítek, clerk to lawyer Dr Kolenatý in 1920s Prague, who is expecting a verdict in a legal property dispute which has dragged on for a century. The mysterious opera singer Emilia Marty arrives to shed a whole new light on the affair as she has an uncanny knowledge of the finer details of past events. As it turns out, Marty is actually a woman who is 335 years old, forced to drink an elixir of near eternal life as a test for her physician father set by a dastardly Emperor. In order to get through life, she has invented a series of new lives and rips her way through the lives of the men and children who cross her path.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Music Review: Julie Atherton - A Girl of Few Words & Simon Burke - Something About Always

Here's a couple more cd reviews of two of my favourite theatrical performers and both cracking cds which I recommend.

Julie Atherton – A Girl of Few Words

Possessed of one of the finest voices currently working in musical theatre if I say so myself, Julie Atherton captured my heart from the first time I saw Avenue Q and I’ve been under her spell ever since. This cd, featuring the songs of composer Charles Miller, marks her solo recording debut

Her voice is just a thing of wonder, at times soft and subtle, but always full of character and more often than not breaking your heart. But she slips easily to a powerful upper register that makes you want to hear just belt everything out and she’s particularly skilled at the comic numbers, with a superb diction rendering every word crystal clear: there’s a real honesty to everything she sings, you feel like she could make you cry just singing the phone book.

I love most every song on here, but If You Were Mine is particularly beautiful, the piano-led Be Careful is excellent and the collaboration with Paul Spicer, Someone Find Me is a fun duet, their friendship clear from the ease with which they harmonise and the final climbing chorus is just lovely. And if you’re lucky, there’s a nod to her most successful show, with a bonus track of There’s A Fine Fine Line included,

A Girl of Few Words is widely available but here’s the Dress Circle link.

Simon Burke – Something About Always

Simon Burke came onto my radar for the first time last year but he did so in quite some style, ending the year as a two-times fosterIAN award winner for his turns in the deeply moving When the Rain Stops Falling and providing the perfect foil for John Barrowman’s over-exuberance in La Cage aux Folles.

Taking in several shows from his varied career, Something About Always is Burke’s debut cd release and this really feels like a personal songbook with Burke sounding so relaxed and comfortable throughout. He has stuck to songs he is intimately familiar with and it pays off: his Song on the Sand from La Cage aux Folles is wistful and romantic, Sondheim’s Sorry – Grateful is rich and lyrical, but Falsettoland’s What More Can I Say is my highlight, warm, tender and just perfect.

There’s two great guest spots as well: he has great chemistry on True Love with his co-star from The Sound of Music Connie Fisher and is clearly having a ball with Caroline O’Connor on a sparkling, laughter-filled rendition of Cole Porter’s You’re The Top. Even Edelweiss sounds like a thing of beauty here (never having seen the show, I have certain preconceptions about that song) with a lovely duetting section in there.

It helps that the songs are so well-arranged, for real instruments (no synthesised backing tracks here, Barrowman!) heavily piano-based with some nice touches of brass in there too and under Daniel Edmonds’ musical direction, they sound so classic that I can’t imagine them dating at all.

Some musical theatre albums are fine for dipping into but don’t play as whole albums: Something About Always is not one of those. Rather it is a well sequenced, beautifully arranged collection of songs featuring Burke’s rich, powerful voice in fine form which you will listen to from start to finish without disappointment, and then again!

Here's a link to buy the cd, which I heartily suggest you do, from Dress Circle.

Review: A Disappearing Number, Complicite at the Novello Theatre

“Some patterns are more difficult to find than others”

I’m nothing if not contrary: I refused endless invitations to see The History Boys despite many people raving about it, I’m just odd like that sometimes. But when someone who really ought to have known better(!) tried to prejudge my response to Complicite’s A Disappearing Number, I was resolved to enjoy it no matter what! After touring India, it is returning to London for a limited engagement after a well-received run in 2008. And fortunately, I really did find it to be contemplative, moving and ultimately most beautiful.

It is incredibly hard to describe just what the show is about as it is impossible to do it justice. On the face of it, it is two love stories: in the modern day, bookish maths lecturer Ruth and stockbroker Al are desperate to start a family as they’ve both turned 40, and then in the 1910s we see the developing relationship between father of modern mathematics G.H Hardy and prodigious Indian maths genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. But it is so much more as well, with a staging of breathtaking invention that works in elements of movement, vocal effects, chanting, Asian dance, and a slick technological aesthetic with some outstanding projection work, beautiful lighting effects and a smoothly everchanging backdrop that seamlessly changes from blackboard to whiteboard to screen to wall and much more besides.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Review: House of Games, Almeida

“Now that’s what I call a therapeutic intervention”

The Almeida plays host to the world premiere of House of Games, a Richard Bean stage adaptation of David Mamet’s 1987 film Margaret Ford is a celebrated wealthy psychoanalyst working in Chicago but after allowing one of her patients to get under her skin, ends up compromising her professional reputation as she attempts to resolve his gambling debts and gets sucked into a world of tricksy cardsharps and handsome hustlers. She attempts to justify her actions by writing a book about this world but soon realises she is in way out of her depth.

It is all good fun and nicely paced under Lindsay Posner’s direction as we whip through the series of events in 100 minutes without an interval. There’s lots in here to keep you guessing throughout, but there are a couple of moments where it resembles the BBC1 programme Hustle far too close for comfort, and those experienced in this type of thriller might be a little disappointed the way in which things go. That said, although I worked out what was going on, my companion remained unaware and consequently really enjoyed the revelations.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Review: Les Misérables, Barbican

“Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?”

When I first started this blogging lark, I thought that what I wanted was to be ‘respected’ as a ‘serious’ theatregoer and whilst I’ve never been ashamed of being a huge fan of musical theatre amongst many other things, I’d always been uneasy about demonstrating that too much. But after great conversations with so many of my new friends in the online reviewing community, I’ve come to fully appreciate that integrity really does come from being truly honest about things that I see and the things that I love and this could not have been better illuminated than in the last two days: an obscure Sondheim revival at the Donmar and the umpteenth time of seeing Les Misérables, albeit in a new production and I can proudly say that it was Les Mis that came out as a clear winner for me despite what my inner snob may have wanted me to say!

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg adapted it for the stage in 1980, and it first played in London at the Barbican, produced by Cameron Mackintosh and directed by Trevor Nunn, transferring to the Palace and then the Queen’s Theatre where it is still running after 25 years. And to mark that 25th anniversary, Mackintosh conceived this touring version of the show, directed by Lawrence Connor and James Powell (a decision which sadly left Nunn’s nose out of joint) and after touring the country, it has now arrived back at its original home at the Barbican for 22 performances only.

I have seen this show so many times, I really have lost count: it has been a perennial favourite and one I’ve revisited every couple of years or so quite regularly with family and friends who share my feelings. I’ve never watched it with a properly critical eye though and it is a long time since I’ve paid for decent seats to see this show, usually picking up cheap ones from TKTS or the like and so I took the plunge here and it really was a novelty and a great pleasure to be so close to the action for once and to approach it with more of a critical mindset. Although I must say, it still rankles with me that seats that are normally £10 at the Barbican are £65 for this production and the best seats are £85. But that’s about my only gripe about the whole experience which was about as good as it gets for me: be warned, I go on a bit in this review!

Cast of Les Misérables continued

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Review: Passion, Donmar Warehouse

“How can I have expectations? Look at me…”

Expectations are a funny thing. When Passion was first announced way back at the beginning of the year I was completely over-excited, Elena Roger returning with Jamie Lloyd directing to recapture some of that Piaf magic and a Sondheim musical I’d never heard, it really was one of my most anticipated theatrical events of the year. Fast forward to September and I am quite frankly close to being Sondheimed out with all of the productions celebrating his 80th year and there had been dark murmurings about how good Passion actually was. 

With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, Passion is based on a film (Passione d’Amore) which was inspired by a book, Fosca. It centres on an unlikely love triangle: Giorgio, who is a soldier engaged in an affair in Milan with Clara, his married mistress, is billeted out to a provincial outpost where he meets his new regiment. He also meets Fosca, the sickly, obsessive cousin of his commanding officer with whom he strikes up an uneasy connection which soon changes his very understanding of the nature of love. For this production, some of the score has been cut by Sondheim, lyrics amended and even Lapine has got in on the action, reworking some of the book. (As it is the first time I’ve seen this show, I can’t comment on any of these changes and for your information, this is a review of a preview on 13th September)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Review: Grateful, starring Anton Stephans, Cadogan Hall

“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Grateful, featuring Anton Stephans is billed as an evening of uplifting gospel and musical theatre, taking place at Cadogan Hall with numerous special guests from the West End, a 20-piece band and ably assisted by the West End Gospel Choir, a collective of performers from a range of West End shows and the music circuit. Stephans is such an irrepressible and charming presence on stage that one imagines this evening would have been a success anyway, even without the harrowing circumstances that led us here.

For the past two and a half years, Stephans has been battling horrendous illness with tumours on his brain and adrenal glands and incredibly gloomy prognoses, but fortunately he has fought the battle well and is now making a full recovery. Hence his return to the stage here to return to his love of performing and pass on his incredible enthusiasm and joie de vivre and the message of the power of positive thinking. He has said that the programme of songs that have moved him and have significance in his life came to him in his darkest moments and consequently it chose to inspire and uplift, to celebrate life and love rather than dwell on the sad times. And boy, did it inspire the audience at Cadogan Hall and uplift them right out of their seats and onto their feet, clapping and cheering and singing along to what was a truly joyous occasion.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Re-review: Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith

“I sometimes think I’m the best person in this town”

Returning to the Lyric Hammersmith for a two week run before a national tour, Punk Rock premiered a year ago to great success and introduced me to great performances from the likes of Tom Sturridge and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, but particularly Jessica Raine who is tearing up the stage at the National in Earthquakes in London and is my tip for great things in the near future. It is the same production team here but with a rejigged cast, three originals remain with a sea of new faces, two of whom are making their professional stage debuts.

Set in a private school in Stockport and following some sixth-formers over a few months as they deal with the pressures of mock A-Levels and the tantalising glimpse of university and the freedom from their current life it offers. It sweeps over a range of teen issues, bullying both by text and physically, inappropriate crushes, fears about the future and university, sexual confusion, self-harming, in an impressive manner, never lingering too long on any but not patronising them either as the relationships between them become the focal point as we reach the shocking climax.

Review: Reclining Nude With Black Stockings, Arcola

“It is possible as an artist to be involved with more than one person”

Reclining Nude with Black Stockings marks Snoo Wilson’s first new play in the UK since 1999 and opens at the tiny Studio 2 at East London’s Arcola Theatre. It looks at the life and career of Expressionist painter Egon Schiele, a controversial figure known for his nude and erotic images who stood trial for seducing his 13 year old model. We see his relationship with Gustav Klimt, his key mentor who gives him one of his ex-lovers as a muse, Walli, as he fights to make his art whilst the spectre of the First World War looms on the horizon.

From what is an interesting set-up, the play ultimately frustrates and disappoints. The plot makes no attempts to really delve into the motivations or the artistic drive behind Schiele, the way he worked and the choices he made, instead just rushing through the story of his career in a series of flat scenes. There’s a missed opportunity to strongly evoke the time and place, Vienna on the cusp of the First World War, I didn’t feel enough was done to establish this, but then the introduction of a failed artist by the name of Adolf Hitler by painting a moustache on an artist’s model felt like a huge step in the wrong direction.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Review: Wanderlust, Royal Court

"Sex shouldn't have to feel like homework"

Wanderlust, the new play from Nick Payne opening upstairs at the Royal Court, carries a warning of nudity and scenes of an adult nature. Frankly, having seen the second preview, it smacks of many a play advertising full frontal nudity in order to whip up a few headlines and controversy and hopefully translate it into ticket sales. It has clearly worked here as there’s already limited availability for the entire run but it wouldn’t surprise me if tickets start to become available once word spreads.

The Richards family: Joy and Alan married for 24 years but haven’t had sex for 12 months and their 15 year old son Tim, desperate to get his first hands-on experience of the facts of life. Whilst looking at ways of trying to rescue their relationship, the sexually frustrated Alan has his eye turned by a colleague who needs comforting after witnessing another teacher pleasuring himself in a classroom after hours; the sexually repressed Joy has her own distraction in the shape of an old flame appearing at her surgery needing treatment for a sensitive matter, but interested in much more and the would-be sexually active Tim turns to his best (female) friend Michelle to show him the ins and outs of sexual congress so that he won’t disappoint an older girl he wants to seduce. As we follow each of them on their journeys, Payne purports to look at the relationship between sex and intimacy and the role each plays in relationships.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Review: Blood and Gifts, National Theatre

“Russian soldiers being shot with Chinese bullets, sometimes the world is so beautiful”

JT Rogers’ Blood and Gifts started off life as one of the short plays that constituted The Great Game, the Tricycle’s hugely ambitious cycle of works about Afghanistan. He withdrew it from the recent re-run of that set of shows to work it up into a full length play which now premieres at the Lyttelton in the National Theatre. It has apparently had a few teething problems resulting in the first preview being cancelled, so this is a review what became the second preview.

The play starts off in 1981 in Pakistan, in the offices of the Intelligence Services there and up in the mountainous borders with Afghanistan, as James Warnock a CIA agent is sent to the region to try and stop the Soviets in their aggression. In order to do so, Warnock needs to negotiate with the Pakistani Intelligence Services, the KGB and MI6 presence there and most trickily, with the slippery Afghan warlords whose loyalties are easily bought but just as easily lost. We then track events for the next 10 years as the war continues, relationships develop over money and arms, watching appeals at the US senate for Stinger missiles, then finally moving to Afghan foothills for a blistering climax when some serious truths are finally revealed.

Cast of Blood and Gifts continued

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Review: Bedlam, Shakespeare's Globe

"Thank the Lord you ain't in there with them"

The first play ever to be written for the Globe by a woman, Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam is the final play to open in this year’s set of offerings. A slice of life of those both in and around the Bethlem mental hospital in London, or Bedlam as it is better known. The plot as such centres around Dr Carew’s corrupt running of the asylum, concerned more with women and profit than observing the Hippocratic oath and actually caring for his patients. But the arrival of new patients and a much more socially aware doctor loosens his grip and soon everything begins to change.

It is huge amount of fun and Jessica Swale’s direction has a very keen sense of the possibilities of playing in the Globe, especially with the yardlings. Soutra Gilmour’s design has the stage in a circle with a ramp going up one side, but if you’re in the yard, be prepared for all sorts of interaction, both on the floor and on the stage and a range of bodily fluids and liquids to come flying at you from the sides and indeed above! And it is so wonderfully musical, taking advantage of the rich archive to pull out a number of songs like A Maid In Bedlam and Oyster Nan, covering ballads to bawdy drinking songs, and it all really works.

Review: This Is How It Goes, King's Head

“The truth is just so damn...elusive”

Taking its title from the Aimee Mann song, This Is How It Goes is a Neil LaBute three-hander presented here by Rooster Productions at Islington’s King Head Theatre Pub. In the words of the playwright himself, it’s ‘a story about three people who ultimately take care of their own needs with a breathtaking ruthlessness’ but as with so many of LaBute’s plays, it is much much more as well.

Set in the US in a small Midwestern town, ‘Man’ has returned to his old home town and bumps into an old flame from school, Belinda. As it turns out she is married with children now to Cody the African-American high-school track champion from back then, but they have a room for rental and so ‘Man’ moves in and the three of them set about reminiscing about old times. The story is narrated throughout by ‘Man’, but from the word go he informs us that there is every chance that he is not the most reliable of narrators and what follows is an intriguing study of the nebulous nature of truth as scenes are played out to us from one perspective, then given explanations or qualifications to guide us closer to what is really happening, in some cases the scenes are even played again.

Cast of Bedlam continued

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Review: Pieces of Vincent, Arcola

“I remember a time when opinion and imagination were on nodding terms”

Pieces of Vincent is a new play from David Watson receiving its world premiere at Dalston's Arcola Theatre. Vincent is a young man adrift in the world, looking for an ex-girlfriend and solace in London, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life changes forever. The play takes us through how this affects a large cast of characters, from County Down to Birmingham to various parts of London, as we slowly see the impact he had and get closer to the truth of what has happened.

Es Devlin’s innovative approach to the design of this show has resulted in an unusual seating arrangement. The audience sit on cushions the floor in the middle of the theatre and the action takes place all around us, as film images are played, often in a highly effective 360° manner. Three of the sides have sets behind the gauzy screens and one has a blank wall onto to which a range of locations are effectively projected.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Review: Design for Living, Old Vic

“I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me.”

Design for Living was banned in the UK for six years when first written in 1933 due to its risqué content, possibly a reaction to the sexually decisive lead female character rather than the hinted-at bisexuality and threesomes contained within, Broadway had no such issue and so it played there first instead. This production launches the Autumn/Winter season at the Old Vic and marks the first of two consecutive trips there for Lisa Dillon (she’ll be appearing in A Flea In Her Ear with Tom Hollander there next). This is a review of the second preview, so bear that in mind as I go on about how fantastic it was!

The play is set in the 1930s, following the ménage à trois between Gilda, a wealthy interior designer, playwright Leo and artist Otto as they test the boundaries of relationships in pursuing their mutual love. Over a few years and from Paris to London to New York, we see the strains of defying social conventions and loving two people equally takes their toll but finally force all three of them into deciding what they truly want.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Review: State Fair, Trafalgar Studios 2

“Our state fair is a great state fair, don't miss it, don't even be late"

Originally produced at the Finborough last summer in what was incredibly its UK stage premiere, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s State Fair makes a transfer to the small basement theatre of Trafalgar Studios. Partly recast and given a design refresh, it extended its run by a couple of weeks due to demand, meaning I finally got round to seeing it, having been on holiday for most of its run, both this year and last. 

In the grand scheme of things, State Fair is a fairly simple play, it revolves around the Frakes, a rural farming family who journey to the three day Iowa State Fair to compete with their livestock and their condiments, and have a little fun too. It started life as a film with five Rodgers & Hammerstein songs in it, ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’ won them their only Oscar, but as it was developed into a musical in the late 90s, the score was substantially beefed up by the incorporation of a number of songs most of which had been cut from other R&H shows such as Oklahoma! and Pipe Dream. 

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Review: The Remains of the Day, Union Theatre

“Is it foolish to wait for the day that will never come”

You have to admire the ambition currently on display at the Union Theatre. Writing a new musical is hard enough at the best of times, but when your source material is a Booker-Prize-winning novel which has already had a much loved film adaptation made, then there’s quite a challenge ahead. But that is what Alex Loveless has taken on with his adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day.

Telling the story of Stevens in post WWII England, a long-serving butler to the late Lord Darlington who is struggling to deal with his new American employer, he identifies the solution as being retrieving a former colleague from Cornwall, Miss Kenton. As he sets off on a road-trip to try and persuade her, he also goes on a journey through his memories of the inter-war period where we discover that his employer was uncomfortably sympathetic to the Nazis and that his relationship with Miss Kenton ran far far deeper than that of just butler and housekeeper.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Review: The Maddening Rain, Old Red Lion Theatre

"You think you can live by your own rules...”

Felix Scott, star of one man show The Maddening Rain, was apparently in Inception. I can’t say I noticed him but then I wasn’t looking out for him, IMDB says he was playing ‘businessman’ and looking back I think he was in the bar in the middle section of the whole dream sequence. But I did however recognise him from his numerous turns in the Tricycle’s Women, Power and Politics season of plays so was keen to see what move he made next.

The Maddening Rain is a monologue from Nicholas Pierpan, following the fortunes of a man who arrives in London from Leicester and is soon swept up into the cut-throat world of corporate finance with its endless chasing of women and profit. As the financial crisis hits the City though, we then see the impact of the global recession from a different perspective.

Music Review: Elena Roger - Vientos del Sur + A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

Now for something a little different. Whilst on holiday, I listened to a lot of music whilst lying by the pool, and I’ve been raving about much of it since my return so I thought I’d pop a couple of brief cd reviews on here, mainly musical theatre records or at least cds by musical theatre people. And if it’s well received, I’ll work my way through my cd collection!

Elena Roger – Vientos del Sur

Vientos del Sur, or Winds from the South, is not necessarily the best way to start this little series as it is not really a musical theatre album but Elena Roger is such an amazing musical theatre actress that I had to start off with this album. It is a collection of rock and pop covers suffused with the rhythms and flavours of Roger’s native Argentina. So we get a tango-inflected version of the Police’s Every Breath You Take here, a chacarera (Argentinean folk) take on The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black there. And perhaps surprisingly, they really do come off successfully.

Reflecting where she was personally and professionally at the time, caught between longing for her South American home but taking advantage of fantastic opportunities in London, this album brings together her two worlds. There’s a mix of English- and Spanish- language songs on here so there’s unfamiliar music mixed right in with the more famous covers (John Lennon’s Jealous Guy also makes an appearance) but it makes for a satisfying whole. Roger’s slightly accented English lends the covers a real sense of authenticity and her singing is just so comfortable and relaxed that it makes ever song a joy to listen to, whether you understand the words or not: Las Ciudades is probably my favourite of the Spanish songs.

For the real musical theatre fans, there is a version of Lloyd-Webber’s Buenos Aires from Evita, but it is quite something that this comes off as one of the weaker tracks on this album. So treat yourself to something a bit different and revel in the amazing swirls of Elena Roger’s voice.

CD available from Dress Circle, and Elena Roger will soon be appearing in Sondheim’s Passion at the Donmar Warehouse.

Various Artists – A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe

A selection of recorded highlights from a concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre celebrating 25 years of collaboration between George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, A Spoonful of Stiles & Drewe was another cd which I listened to repeatedly.

Featuring music from their shows Honk!, Just So, Peter Pan and the new songs in Mary Poppins, it is performed by an impressive roster of West End stars and Stiles & Drewe themselves. I have to admit to never having seen any of their shows, and was given this cd as a present, so it is all the more impressive that this is such a listenable collection of songs. It also features some songs from their next show, Soho Cinders, a gay retelling of Cinderella, featuring what could be a new-career-making turn from Gareth Gates, if his rendition of They Don’t Make Glass Slippers is anything to go by.

Highlights for me alongside Glass Slippers are Julie Atherton’s Wait a Bit from Just So, a passionate Never Land from James Gillan and Helena Blackman, a witty version of Mary Poppins’ Practically Perfect and Stiles & Drewe’s own performance of the moving Does the Moment Ever Come?

Produced by Speckulation, the cd is available from their website, and fans of Stiles & Drewe might be interesting in catching them at a charity gala at Wilton’s Music Hall later in September.